Perhaps it is predictable that the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination would get ugly this week. One caucus, and one primary election, have passed without the emergence of a decisive frontrunner. And then another billionaire jumped in. That the long-awaited entry of businessman and former New York City Michael Bloomberg into the contest would throw everything into chaos was perfectly predictable.
What was also predictable is that Donald Trump’s media handmaidens would find a way to bring Hillary Clinton into it. They will do this regularly for the rest of the 2020 cycle. They will do this, not just to increase the chaos, but to divert attention from the charges of corruption which cling to Donald Trump’s presidency like Manhattan dog shit on a running shoe. On Saturday, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post reported that Bloomberg was considering Clinton, who is as reviled in the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party as she is by Trump Republicans, as a possible running mate.
And yet, there seems to be absolutely no evidence that this is true, or that Hillary Clinton plans to run for anything, ever, again. Let’s look at the story.
Post reporters Mary Kay Ling and Jon Levine (who should, along with their editor, have their journalism cards suspended) cite as their source that bastion of investigative news, The Drudge Report. This original conservative digital success story has a history with the Clintons: you may recall that The Drudge Report became the money-making monster that it is today by breaking the story of Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky on January 17, 1998.
Matt Drudge is best known as an aggregator, but occasionally breaks “exclusives,” some of which are true and some of which aren’t, and all of which are generally ascribed to unnamed “inside sources.” In fact, Drudge began the site as a Hollywood gossip column when he worked at the CBS gift shop in Los Angeles, and many of his exclusive news items came from executive trash cans he sorted through at night. As the site grew in popularity, The Drudge Report became a go-to site for planting stories that political operatives and campaign aides wanted to inject into the media ecosystem.
In 2009, the Columbia Journalism Review noted that, after a decade, Drudge’s influence within journalism had declined, both because online media itself had become more Drudge-like, and because Drudge’s brand of libertarian conservatism had become hackneyed and stale. Yet it continued to make money. In 2019 Buzzfeed, drawing on estimates from Global Disinformation News, estimated The Drudge Report’s revenues as between $9 and $30 million a year.
Arguably, the Trump presidency has created an atmosphere conducive to a Drudge cultural revival. The torrent of lies pouring out of the White House, Republican attacks on the “liberal media” that echo Drudge’s own 20th century revolution on the margins of political media, and the enormous profits in click bait publishing mean that even if everything old is not new again, some things — like Drudge’s blend of gossip and politics — are.
But back to the Clinton rumours, which are calculated to set both #MAGA Twitter and the Sanders troll army on fire. If the Post is citing Drudge as its source, Drudge himself appears to have no sources. In fact, he appears not to have reported the story at all. Instead, he has linked to The Daily Mail, another story in The New York Post (which cites an unnamed “ Democratic friend” advising us to “watch for smoke signals from Chappaqua”), a story on Fox News, and one on Politico. All of these reports, in turn, cite Drudge and information he supposedly gained from an “unnamed source close to the Bloomberg campaign.” In other words, all of these outlets are sourcing their stories by citing each other. There is, as far as I can tell, no original source.
These stories also post numerous photographs of Clinton and Bloomberg together, pictures taken over the last two decades at fundraisers and political events, as if they were evidence of this incipient political alliance. Were the image above, taken in 2017, to be used in such a story, it might be equally reasonable to speculate that editorial legend Anna Wintour, seated between Clinton and Bloomberg, was also a potential Vice-Presidential candidate.
The Bloomberg campaign has denied repeatedly that they are considering Clinton as a running mate. Yet the headlines — “Bloomberg Considers Hillary Running Mate” — say exactly the opposite.
In other words, there is no story about a Bloomberg/Clinton ticket. Assertions to the contrary are lies, intended to sow division and outrage across the political spectrum and portray the Democratic Party as corrupt. It is a massive disinformation campaign. It is not originating with Russian bots, or dimwit Dittoheads and Bernie bros glued to Twitter, but with Drudge and supposedly legitimate news outlets.
You can, however, be sure that the bots, Dittoheads and Bernie Bros will do their job and spread the story far and wide as a restoration narrative in which Bloomberg is buying Hillary Clinton the presidency that she could not win on her own.
Claire Potter is co-executive editor of Public Seminar and Professor of History at The New School for Social Research. You can tweet with her @TenuredRadical. To get all of these posts personally delivered, subscribe to her Substack, Political Junkie, here.